Going for baroque at the Felicja Blumental International Festival

Noting the timing of the festivals, he adds with a smile: “I think it is very suitable for Purim because it is like you see the same music, but dressed completely differently.”

March 23, 2019 20:45
4 minute read.
Going for baroque at the Felicja Blumental International Festival

THE IRA GIVOL Ensemble with Givol in the center: ‘I really tried to cover as many Baroque genres as I could.’ . (photo credit: YOAV ETIEL)


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The Felicja Blumental International Festival, which takes place in Tel Aviv March 26-30, was created by soprano singer Annette Celine to commemorate her mother, Felicja Blumental.

Blumental, a prominent 20th century pianist who escaped her native Poland on the eve of the WWII, lived in Brazil and England, and ended her days in Tel Aviv, was a citizen of the world, and so was her daughter. This reflects in the festival program, which has always been variegated, with high standards of music making and ultimate dedication to art written all over it. Celine, who was the inspiring force behind the festival, died two years ago, but the imprint she has left on the festival is indelible.

Historic performance of Baroque music, choirs, piano and violin recitals, chamber concerts, opera productions, jazz – you name it. In addition, festival director Avigail Arnheim will present a lecture about Celine – her late partner in creating of this unique music event.

One of the festival highlights is sure to be Ira Givol – an Israeli cellist based in Belgium. Givol, who shares his time between two historical performance groups – a Swiss orchestra Geneva Camerata (of which he is the concert master of celli) and Il Gardelino in Belgium, will present his Bach Suites Project in concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Since the Felicja Blumental festival cooperates with another inspiring music event, Bach in Jerusalem Festival of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, Givol will appear at the both, with slightly different programs.

The cellist confides that he has been playing Bach suites for years, while this current project with “my dearest friends and excellent musicians” has emerged from an educational project. “People used to come to me asking to accompany them and I needed to explain them the structure and the harmony of these pieces. Later, this educational game started evolving into a serious artistic project of filling in of missing voices,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

For those not in the know, the musician explains that “Cello suites are written for a melodic instrument which is able to play one or maybe two voices at the same time. But Bach never wrote music which is not in four voices. This is the magic of this music – how this melodic instrument can perform a four voices counterpoint. So the choice was to either destroy the magic or finish the puzzle. Basically, I added sometimes four and sometimes three different parts that I heard in my head. My only decision was to not change the original text.”

Speaking of the structure of the arranged pieces, he says that he “took each movement of the cello suites and tried to realize how do I see it in different Baroque genres. For example, I took dances and some of them turned into a trio or a Baroque sonata, some of them into a cello concerto, which Bach never wrote, and so on. I really tried to cover as many Baroque genres as I could. It’s not variation, but rather an extension of the original text.”

Noting the timing of the festivals, he adds with a smile: “I think it is very suitable for Purim because it is like you see the same music, but dressed completely differently.”

When asked isn’t it a sacrilege to touch pieces by the holy Bach, he explains, “In terms of historical justification, I don’t think that his music is untouchable. I took permission from himself. Because he never performed a piece twice, for example, we have five different versions of St. Matthew Passion. He changed and re-arranged his pieces according to the instruments, and it was very usual to take a written piece and to change it according to your needs.”

What is that attracts you to Baroque music?

“It all started in my childhood. Like many kids of my generation, I was carried away with the music movie of the early 1900s Tous les matins du monde about the eminent Baroque musician Marin Marais. Today, I can say what I like about this music because I know what can be done with it. In many senses, I feel that this music matches our time better than, say, 19th century music, and this is all about the flexibility of Baroque music. At the time, it was probably meant to be played once. If you played it another time you played it differently, which makes music not so sacred, and you can play with it, just like I am doing in this project. This makes it more appealing to me, as well as to some of the modern audiences. You can’t do it to Brahms, but Bach would sound great on accordion, with marimba, on historical instruments. The music is flexible enough to take this kind of treatment. With Baroque, I feel a bit like a child on a playground!”

Givol’s ensemble includes harpsichord player Zvi Meniker, cellists Mara Miribung of Italy and Ira Givol, and violinists Jonathan Keren and Joanna Huszcza. “My life partner and the mother of my two-year-old daughter,” he adds happily.

For the festival program: https://en.fbmc.co.il/festival/

For reservations: https://kb.blumentalfestival.com/

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